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to the young, that there exists somewhere a circle of cultivated minds, gifted with discernment, who can distinguish at a glance between Shakespeare and Tupper. One may doubt the existence of any such contemporary tribunal. Certainly there is none such in America. Provided an author says something noticeable, and obeys the ordinary rules of grammar and spelling, his immediate public asks little more ; and if he attempts more, it is an even chance that it leads him away from favor. Indeed, within the last few years, it has come to be a sign of infinite humor to dispense with even these few rules, and spell as badly as possible. Yet even if you went to London or to Paris in search of this imaginary body of critics, you would not find them; there also you would find the transient and the immortal confounded together, and the transient often uppermost. Even a foreign country is not always, as has been said, a contemporaneous posterity. It is said that no American writer was ever so warmly received in England as Artemus Ward. It is only the slow alembic of the years that finally eliminates from this vast mass of literature its few immortal drops, and leaves the rest to perish. I know of no tonic more useful for a young writer than to read carefully, in the English Reviews of sixty or seventy years ago, the crushing criticisms on nearly every author of that epoch who has achieved lasting fame. What cannot there be read, however, is the sterner history of those who were simply neglected. Look, for instance, at the career of Charles Lamb, who now seems to us a writer who must have disarmed opposition, and have been a favorite from the first. Lamb’s “Rosamond Gray” was published in 1798, and for two years was not even reviewed. His poems appeared during the same year. In 1815 he introduced Talfourd to Wordsworth as his own “only admirer.” In 1819 the series of “Essays of Elia” began, and Shelley wrote to Leigh Hunt that year: “When I think of such a mind as Lamb's,
when I see how unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and complete perfection, what should I hope for myself, if I had not higher objects in view than fame?” These Essays were published in a volume in 1823; and Willis records that when he was in Europe, ten years later, and just before Lamb's death, “it was difficult to light upon a person who had read Elia.” This brings us to a contemporary instance. Willis and Hawthorne wrote early, side by side, in “The Token,” about 1827, forty years ago. Willis rose at once to notoriety, but Mr. S. G. Goodrich, the editor of the work, states in his autobiography, that Hawthorne's contributions “did not attract the slightest attention.” Ten years later, in 1837, these same sketches were collected in a volume, as “Twice-Told Tales”; but it was almost impossible to find a publisher for them, and when published they had no success. I well remember the apathy with which even the enlarged edition of 1842 was received, in spite of the warm admiration of a few ; nor was it until the publication of “The Scarlet Letter,” in 1850, that its author could fairly be termed famous. For twenty years he was, in his own words, “the obscurest man of letters in America”; and it is the thought to which the mind must constantly recur, in thinking of Hawthorne, How could any combination of physical and mental vigor enable a man to go on producing works of such a quality in an atmosphere so chilling 2 Probably the truth is, that art precedes criticism, and that every great writer creates or revives the taste by which he is appreciated. True, we are wont to claim that “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin”; but it sometimes takes the world a good while to acknowledge its poor relations. It seems hard for most persons to recognize a touch of nature when they see it. The trees have formed their buds in autumn every year since trees first waved; but you will find that the great majority of persons have never made that discovery, and suppose that Nature gets up those ornaments in spring. And if we are thus blind to what hangs conspicuously before our eyes for the whole long winter of every year, how unobservant must we be of the rarer phases of earthly beauty and of human life 2 Keep to the conventional, and you have something which all have seen, even if they disapprove; copy Nature, and her colors make art appear incredible. If you could paint the sunset before your window as gorgeous as it is, your picture would be hooted from the walls of the exhibition. If you were to write into fiction the true story of the man or woman you met yesterday, it would be scouted as too wildly unreal. Indeed, the literary artist may almost say, as did the Duke of Wellington when urged to write his memoirs, “I should like to speak the truth; but if I did, I should be torn in pieces.” Therefore the writer, when he adopts a high aim, must be a law to himself, bide his time, and take the risk of discovering, at last, that his life has been a failure. His task is one in which failure is easy, when he must not only depict the truths of Nature, but must do this with such verisimilitude as to vindicate its truth to other eyes. And since this recognition may not even begin till after his death, we can see what Rivarol meant by his fine saying, that “genius is only great patience,” and Buffon, by his more guarded definition of genius as the aptitude for patience. Of all literary qualities, this patience has thus far been rarest in America. Therefore, there has been in our literature scarcely any quiet power; if effects are produced, they must, in literature as in painting, be sensational, and cover acres of canvas. As yet, the mass of our writers seek originality in mere externals; we think, because we live in a new country, we are unworthy of ourselves if we do not Americanize the grammar and spelling-book. In a republic, must the objective case be governed by a verb We shall yet learn that it is not new literary forms we need, but only fresh inspiration, comWOL. XX. - NO. 122. 48
bined with cultivated taste. The standard of good art is always much the same ; modifications are trifling. Otherwise we could not enjoy any foreign literature. A fine phrase in AEschylus or Dante affects us as if we had read it in Emerson. A structural completeness in a work of art seems the same in the CEdipus Tyrannus as in “The Scarlet Letter.” Art has therefore its law; and eccentricity, though sometimes promising as a mere trait of youth, is only a disfigurement to maturer years. It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote “Leaves of Grass,” only that he did not burn it afterwards. A young writer must commonly plough in his first crop, as the farmer does, to enrich the soil. Is it luxuriant, astonishing, the wonder of the neighborhood; so much the better, — in let it go Sydney Smith said, in 1818, “There does not appear to be in America, at this moment, one man of any considerable talents.” Though this might not now be said, we still stand before the world with something of the Swiss reputation, as a race of thrifty republicans, patriotic and courageous, with a decided turn for mechanical invention. What we are actually producing, even to-day, in any domain of pure art, is very little; it is only the broad average intelligence of the masses that does us any credit. And even this is easily exaggerated. The majority of members of Congress talk bad grammar; so do the majority of public-school teachers. I do not mean merely that they speak without elegance, but that in moments of confidence they say “We was,” and “Them things,” and “I done it.” With the present predominance of merely scientific studies, and the increasing distaste for the study of language, I do not see how this is to diminish. For all that, there are already visible, in the American temperament, two points of great promise in respect to art in general, and literary art above all. First, there is in this temperament a certain pliability and impressibility, as compared with the rest of the AngloSaxon race; it shows a finer grain and
a nicer touch. If this is not yet shown in the way of literature, it is only because the time has not come. It is visible everywhere else. The aim which Bonaparte avowed as his highest ambition for France, to convert all trades into arts, is being rapidly fulfilled all around us. There is a constant tendency to supersede brute muscle by the fibres of the brain, and thus to assimilate the rudest toil to what Bacon calls “sedentary and within-door arts, that require rather the finger than the arm.” It is clear that this same impulse, in higher and higher applications, must culminate in the artistic creation of beauty. And to fortify this fine instinct, we may trust, secondly, in the profound earnestness which still marks our people. With all this flexibility, there is yet a solidity of principle beneath, that makes the subtile American mind as real and controlling as that of the robust race from which it sprang. Though the present tendency of our art is towards foreign models, this is but a temporary thing. We must look at these till we have learned what they can teach, but a race in which the moral nature is strongest will be its own guide at last. And it is a comfort thus to end in the faith that, as the foundation of all true greatness is in the conscience, so we are safe if we can but carry into science and art the same earnestness of spirit which has fought through the great civil war and slain slavery. As “the Puritan has triumphed” in this stern contest, so must the Puritan triumph in the more graceful emulations that are to come ; but it must be the Puritanism of Milton, not of Cromwell only. The invigorating air of great moral principles must breathe through all our literature; it is the expanding spirit of the seventeenth century by which we must conquer now. It is worth all that has been sacrificed in New England to vindicate this one fact, the supremacy of the moral
nature. All culture, all art, without this, must be but rootless flowers, such as flaunt round a nation's decay. All the long, stern reign of Plymouth Rock and Salem Meeting-House was well spent, since it had this for an end,to plough into the American race the tradition of absolute righteousness, as the immutable foundation of all. This was the purpose of our fathers. There should be here no European frivolity, even if European grace went with it. For the sake of this great purpose, history will pardon all their excesses, – overwork, grim Sabbaths, prohibition of innocent amusements, all were better than to be frivolous. And so, in these later years, the arduous reforms into which the life-blood of Puritanism has passed have all helped to train us for art, because they have trained us in earnestness, even while they seemed to run counter to that spirit of joy in which art has its being. For no joy is joyous which has not its root in something noble. In what awful lines of light has this truth been lately written against the sky! What graces might there not have been in that Southern society before the war It had ease, affluence, leisure, polished manners, European culture, — all worthless; it produced not a book, not a painting, not a statue ; it concentrated itself on politics, and failed; then on war, and failed; it is dead and vanished, leaving only memories of wrong behind. Let us not be too exultant; the hasty wealth of New York may do as little. Intellect in this age is not to be found in the circles of fashion; it is not found in such society in Europe, it is not here. Even in Paris, the world's capital, imperialism taints all it touches; and it is the great traditions of a noble nation which make that city still the home of art. We, a younger and cruder race, yet need to go abroad for our standard of execution, but our ideal and our faith must be our own.
Wii. Johnny is all snugly curled up in bed, with his rosy cheek resting on one of his scratched and grimy little hands, forming altogether a perfect picture of peace and innocence, it seems hard to realize what a busy, restive, pugnacious, badly ingenious little wretch he is There is something so comical in those funny little shoes and stockings sprawling on the floor, they look as if they could jump up and run off, if they wanted to, -there is something so laughable about those little trousers, which appear to be making vain attempts to climb up into the easychair, – the said trousers still retaining the shape of Johnny's little legs, and refusing to go to sleep, — there is something, I say, about these things, and about Johnny himself, which makes it difficult for me to remember that, when Johnny is awake, he not unfrequently displays traits of character not to be compared with anything but the cunning of an Indian warrior, combined with the combative qualities of a trained prize-fighter. I'm sure I don't know how he came by such unpleasant propensities. I am myself the meekest of men. Of course, I don't mean to imply that Johnny inherited his warlike disposition from his mother. She is the gentlest of women. But when you come to Johnny—he's the terror of the whole neighborhood. He was meek enough at first, — that is to say, for the first six or seven days of his existence. But I verily believe that he was n't more than eleven days old when he showed a degree of temper that shocked me, –shocked me in one so young. On that occasion he turned very red in the face, — he was quite red before, — doubled up his ridiculous hands in the most threatening manner, and finally, in the impotency of rage, punched himself in the eye. When I think of the life he led his mother and Susan during the first eighteen months after his arrival, I shrink from the re
sponsibility of allowing Johnny to call me father. Johnny's aggressive disposition was not more early developed than his duplicity. By the time he was two years of age, I had got the following maxim by heart: “Whenever J. is particularly quiet, look out for squalls.” He was sure to be in some mischief. And I must say there was a novelty, an unexpectedness, an ingenuity, in his badness that constantly astonished me. The crimes he committed could be arranged alphabetically. He never repeated himself. His evil resources were inexhaustible. He never did the thing I expected he would. He never failed to do the thing I was unprepared for. I am not thinking so much of the time when he painted my writing-desk with raspberry jam, as of the occasion when he perpetrated an act of original cruelty on Mopsey, a favorite kitten in the household. We were sitting in the library. Johnny was playing in the front hall. In view of the supernatural stillness that reigned, I remarked, suspiciously, “Johnny is very quiet, my dear.” At that moment a series of pathetic mews was heard in the entry, followed by a violent scratching on the oil-cloth. Then Mopsey bounded into the room with three empty spools strung upon her tail. The spools were removed with great difficulty, especially the last one, which fitted remarkably tight. After that, Mopsey never saw a work-basket without arching her tortoise-shell back, and distending her tail to three times its natural thickness. Another child would have squeezed the kitten, or stuck a pin in it, or twisted her tail; but it was reserved for the superior genius of Johnny to string rather small spools upon it. He never did the obvious thing. It was this fertility and happiness, if I may say so, of invention, that prevented me from being entirely dejected over my son's behavior at this period.
Sometimes the temptation to seize him could read him as cleverly as he reads and shake him was too strong for poor me. He knows all my weak points ; human nature. But I always regretted he sees right through me, and makes it afterwards. When I saw hint asleep me feel that I am a helpless infant in in his tiny bed, with one tear dried on his adroit hands. He has an argumenthis plump velvety cheek and two little ative, oracular air, when things have mice-teeth visible through the parted gone wrong, which always upsets my lips, I could n't help thinking what a dignity. Yet how cunningly he uses little bit of a fellow he was, with his his power! It is only in the last exfunny little fingers and his funny little tremity that he crosses his legs, puts nails; and it did n't seem to me that his hands into his trousers-pockets, and he was the sort of person to be pitched argues the case with me. One day last into by a great strong man like me. week he was very near coming to grief.
"When Johnny grows older," I used By my directions, kindling-wood and to say to his mother, “I'll reason with coal are placed every morning in the him."
library grate, in order that I may have Now I don't know when Johnny will a fire the moment I return at night. grow old enough to be reasoned with. Master Johnny must needs apply a When I reflect how hard it is to reason lighted match to this arrangement early with wise grown-up people, if they hap- in the forenoon. The fire was not dispen to be unwilling to accept your view covered until the blower was one mass of matters, I am inclined to be very of red-hot iron, and the wooden mantelpatient with Johnny, whose experience piece was smoking with the intense is rather limited, after all, though he is heat. six years and a half old, and naturally When I came home, Johnny was led wants to know why and wherefore. from the store-room, where he had been Somebody says something about the imprisoned from an early period, and duty of "blind obedience.” I can't where he had employed himself in expect Johnny to have more wisdom eating about two dollars' worth of prethan Solomon, and to be more philo- served pears. sophic than the philosophers.
" Johnny,” said I, in as severe a tone At times, indeed, I have been led to as one could use in addressing a person expect this from him. He has shown whose forehead glistened with syrup,– a depth of mind that warranted me "Johnny, don't you remember that I in looking for anything. At times he have always told you never to meddle seems as if he were a hundred years with matches ?” old. He has a quaint, bird-like way It was something delicious to see of cocking his head on one side, and Johnny trying to remember. He cast asking a question that appears to be one eye meditatively up to the ceiling, the result of years of study. If I could then he fixed it abstractedly on the answer some of those questions, I canary-bird, then be rubbed his ruffled should solve the darkest mysteries of brows with a sticky hand; but really, life and death. His inquiries, however, for the life of him, he could n't recall generally have a grotesque flavor. One any injunctions concerning matches. night, when the mosquitoes were mak- “I can't, papa, truly, truly,” said ing lively raids on his person, he ap- Johnny at length. “I guess I must pealed to me, suddenly: “ How does have forgot it.” the moon feel when a skeeter bites it?” “Well, Johnny, in order that you To his meditative mind, the broad, may not forget it in future — " smooth surface of the moon presented Here Johnny was seized with an idea. a temptation not to be resisted by any He interrupted me. stray skeeter.
"I'll tell you what you do, papa, — I freely confess that Johnny is now you just put it down in writin.” and then too much for me. I wish I With the air of a man who has set